Category: music

Top 10s of 2010 (so far)

It’s been a while between blogging. But lots of writing being done – just not so much the publishing.

So hence, a quick intermission.

Top 10 albums of 2010 (so far)

1. Laura Marling – I Speak Because I Can

A huge leap from her already pretty great debut. A mournful album about growing up and womanhood, wrapped up in stories of timeless darkness. She mixes old time-y weirdness about husbands, devils and letters with stunning guitar playing and vocals. The name Joni Mitchell is bandied about a lot in reviews.

‘Women’ is not a genre, but it seems of late even the gals have forgotten that, with so many carbon copy pop stars out there. And here we have someone who doesn’t use her image (or her body) to sell her music. As she says herself – “There’s a mind under this hat“. That maturity is even more impressive when you take into account she wrote and recorded this album at age 19.

My favourite track by a long way is Goodbye England (Covered In Snow), and the singles so far are Devil’s Spoke and Rambling Man.

2. The Soft Pack – The Soft Pack

This is turning into a year of great rock ‘n’ roll records, coming off several years of slim pickings. For me, the Soft Pack are leading the charge. Their sound is a perfect storm – short, catchy rock, great riffs, great voice, no excess. At 35 minutes, the album whizzes by at a pace, but the choruses and the hooks stick with you. It’s punk-y, it’s garage-y, it’s pop-py, it’s rock-y – it’s perfect.

This is a really easy album to fall in love with. It’s immediate and easy. Most people I play it for love it. Crackers like C’mon, Down On Loving and Answer To Yourself are hit songs. Then they even up the aggression on Pull Out. And then they pull it all back on the penultimate track, the laid back, sweet Mexico.

This still could be number 1 at the end of the year. I’ve been playing this non stop since February. Time will tell.

The film clip for Answer To Yourself features some of the cast from the movie Kick-Ass.

3. The Hold Steady – Heaven Is Whenever

The Hold Steady have made themselves one of my favourite bands in the last few years. They do that “rock and roll can save you” thing better than anyone else around at the moment. Craig Finn is a believer – spouting lyrics mainly about rock, drugs, girls and other important things like that. Their 5th album is as good as their past works – just listening to it makes me feel alive, and that life will be ok.

Heaven Is Whenever is a different beast than their earlier albums. The loss of the keyboard player brought the guitars forward, and with them come some stunning slow moments. We Can Get Together is the absolute highlight – mixing songs about heaven with the band Heavenly, and how that drummer died. But ending with the most quoted lyric in reviews this year

Heaven is whenever we can get together
Close your bedroom door and listen to your records

It’s poetic, it’s romantic and it rocks. It’s what these guys do best. From the opening kiss of The Sweet Part Of the City throughout a healthy portion of rockers (Hurricane J and Weekenders are the best of them), it shows a slightly new sound but the same old heart and soul. And I think of this band, and Craig Finn, and the more I think he’s right about everything.

4. LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening

For me, Sound Of Silver was one of the 5 greatest albums of the last decade, and I wasn’t the only one. So the pressure was on for James Murphy, main man for LCD Soundsystem, and their 3rd album. They do an admirable job. Although it lacks some of the highs of Sound Of Silver, it’s still a fantastic record.

Drunk Girls divided people, but it was fun bubblegum garbage like Song 2. But the depth of Murphy’s songwriting is better expressed elsewhere. I Can Change, All I Want, You Wanted A Hit – sort of crap titles but Murphy is totally in charge of these dance pop numbers. The sounds, the lyrics, the moods, the feel – all spot on.

There’s the stuff that has made LCD Soundsystem so legendary – chaotic messes that somehow stick together like Pow Pow. Beautiful ballads like Home. It’s all here, and again, I’m still listening to this record, discovering new things.

5. Hot Chip – One Life Stand

I don’t know what happened in the lives of Hot Chip since their last record, but they are in love and not afraid to show it. Two great records so far were full of humour and cheeky fun. This record is something new – it’s straightfaced and affectionate. Sometimes you are waiting for the smartarses to reveal themselves but they never do.

In a way, the songs are the simplest they’ve ever been. It’s a pleasant record. If the beats weren’t just a little too hard, and the synths weren’t a little too loud, these could be teen pop songs. As they are, they keep that Hot Chip-ness. It’s just that it’s Hot Chip, the love balladeers.

And to boot – video of the year so far.

The rest of the top ten so far are:

6. Spoon – Transference

7. Vampire Weekend – Contra

8. Teenage Fanclub – Shadows

9. Dr Dog – Shame Shame

10. Surfer Blood – Astro Coast

Obviously a lot more will be written at the end of the year. And some of my favourite artists are coming up to bat – Belle & Sebastian and Darren Hanlon amongst them.

It’s been a great year so far. Many records are just bubbling under, and still have six months to prove themselves as well…

30 for 30: Mojo Magazine

30 for 30 – as I reach my fourth decade of being, I’m writing about some of the things that made the three that came before what they were. 30 – mostly trivial – things that have been a part of 30 – mostly trivial – years.


Mojo Magazine - I won all these ones

Mojo Magazine (The Music Magazine) celebrates it’s 200th issue this month (Tom Waits cover). It is the only magazine that I collect. That is, I buy them AND I keep them. I’ve been buying them for almost 13 years now.

I am not going to write about music in this 30 for 30 column specifically. But I am going to touch on some related issues, like this one. It’s more about collecting a magazine for years on end.

I still see, all the time, people with the National Geographic in their living rooms. Dozens if not hundreds of them, with that yellow spine. What is with that magazine? Were subscriptions super cheap? And people keep them – how often do they re-read them?

I’m not even sure if I’ve ever read one article in National Geographic in my entire life.

But there is something I really love about seeing magazines on a shelf. Metres of shelf space. The matching spines. The OCD part of me goes wild about it.

I think it’s a dying culture – the magazine you keep. The National Geographic. The New Yorker. Mojo. Major, timeless journalism vs contemporary events. I really think that people of my age will be the last generation to do this.

First Mojo I ever bought was issue 46. Funnily enough, Radiohead were on the cover. It was Campsie Centre, and in Australia we get Mojo Magazine about two months later than the UK, so it would have been November 1997.

I was buying anything and everything to do with music. And I remember seeing this magazine with Achtung Baby written across it, and a photo of four weird looking guys. Now, I know Achtung Baby is a U2 album, but those guys on the cover were not U2. What the hell? What is this Mojo?

So that cover stuck with me (it was issue 41). Years later I discovered it was Kraftwerk. The next month the newsagent had another weird one. John Lennon – looking uncool and almost dead. It was so different from Rolling Stone, Juice, Recovery Magazine and all that.

So finally by 46, I caved and bought the issue. Everyone was talking about Radiohead. It was a way into this magazine. And I’ll be honest, I didn’t understand half of it. I knew  very little of the bands discussed. But as usual, I saw it as a challenge.

I bought the occasional Mojo from then on, but didn’t get it month to month until around 65. By then I was all across the Nick Drakes and the Zombies of the world.

You can see the covers discussed here

Doug Thomas was the first person I ever met with a complete collection of Mojo Magazines. Doug is a legend in the Australian indie records scene, having worked behind the counter at some of the best record shops Adelaide and Perth had to offer.

I was friends with his daughter, the talented Stina Thomas (now a solo artist in Perth). Anyway, that first trip to Perth, visiting friends, was great and not relevant to this other than seeing Doug’s complete set of Mojos. I don’t know what about me sees stuff like that and decides I want it too. Something about conspicuous consumption speaks to my heart. I can still see it now – the bottom row of this shelf in the Thomas household.

So that’s always been the aim. The complete set. I have managed to find old Mojo magazines in various thrift stores, second book shops, Oxfams and dusty record shops. I am still a fair way off a complete set.

The oldest Mojo I have is 9. The Clash are on the cover.

Is it odd that I hunt down old magazines? Maybe. I do have a problem with stuff like this. Collecting weird stuff.  I do read them though. And hey, people collect stamps. So I can do this.

Why Mojo? Why not National Geographic?

The obvious answer is music. Mojo was the music magazine and nothing else. But there is something timeless about it. Or maybe more accurately – the consistently dated quality.

It just set the scene for me, regardless of what trends were going on. Take for example, issue 75. The lead article (really, like the LEAD ARTICLE and COVER) was a profile on four bands.

1) The Velvet Underground in their least popular period

2) The then-unknown Big Star

3) Fred Neil. I mean do you, even today, know who Fred Neil is?

4) The La’s. Yes, the weird one hit wonders that were the La’s.

Before the internet, Wikipedia, Allmusic and all that, this was my education into weird, old music.

That issue was over ten years ago and I still know what I learnt from that issue. If that gives you an indication of how good the writing is.

I guess it was around this time Michael Lock, a great music journalist, introduced me to Lester Bangs and other great rock writers. I started to appreciate Rock Journalism as a thing of it’s own. Michael never wrote album reviews, but he wrote profiles on bands. I know writers who do the reverse. The art of music writing was studied here, by me.

But everyone cool I know bought Mojo. Musicians. Record shop people. Scenesters. It was our bible. I remember Michael telling me about a t-shirt that Evan Dando had, that Gram Parsons wore once. And he just went to my shelf, picked out the right Mojo issue (56, Massive Attack) and showed it to me.

So Mojo was my ticket into that old man rock world. In my life, I’ve never had a problem meeting older men who can tell me about unreleased David Bowie tracks.

I buy Mojo anywhere and everywhere. Mostly I bought them for an extra $5 in record shops, to get them around the same time as the UK. For many years, the ritual was to buy it at Egg Records in Newtown, then walk over to café for a big breakfast, or dinner at Happy Chef.

Pretty much every Mojo I have has a few oil splatters, or tomato sauce specks. My memories of reading Mojo Magazine is tied to food, and eating out and by myself.

With this week’s, 200th issue, I did what I normally do. Instead of heading home, I deliberately stopped for food (a cheap and excellent laksa from Tuk Tuk, Baywater). Just on my own, read the magazine as I ate.

In fact, I clearly remember eating at the Happy Chef for the 100th issue. It was one of the few issues where the cover wrapped around, so I was being extra careful. But usually my copies are a bit battered around.

The second hand old ones I buy almost always has a blank crossword. Who is leaving these blank? I always do the crosswords and usually underline and write all over other bits as well.

I buy Mojo anywhere I am. I’ve bought one in Copenhagen (157). And recently in Oxford (199). I have never missed an issue this decade, no matter where I am and what I’m doing.

I have 70 or so issues here in London, and 100 or so in Australia. I can’t wait to unite the collection.

Other magazines have come and gone. No Depression ceased publication in 2008, calling an end to a 7 year relationship. I loved Chunklet magazine, but they put out an issue every two years – if you’re lucky.

Magazines like Q, Empire and Rolling Stone got too bogged down in current trends for me. I liked them for years, but they are more for current news than to keep for the ages. I’ve flirted with Record Collector. Dated Classic Rock. Performing Songwriter. Word. But I keep coming back to Mojo. I don’t even question the quality of it anymore. It’s become part of my life.

I would LOVE to find a film magazine that has the quality of journalism like Mojo.

So the aim in life now is to be a writer. And that could well mean writing about music.

I wrote about music in a Sydney street press column for years. I produced radio. I love talking about music. And Mojo definitely fueled that fire. It would be amazing to write for Mojo. It’s like when I played in a band and hosting Rage was the goal. Or maybe just have a letter published.

But that will probably never happen and it doesn’t matter. I will still be reading it. Hopefully the decline of magazines will be kind to Mojo, and I will be having a laksa, sitting down with the 300th issue in September 2018.

30 for 30: Podcasts

30 for 30 – as I reach my fourth decade of being, I’m writing about some of the things that made the three that came before what they were. 30 – mostly trivial – things that have been a part of 30 – mostly trivial – years.


Fresh Air's Terry Gross, hosting the show in 1987. Still the greatest interviewer we've ever had.

Something different for this entry.

Podcasts are awesome. They have been a big part of my life for the last 5 years. Every week, I spend hours listening to podcasts – which is more time than I spend on eating probably.

So it’s odd how little we talk about podcasts.

I’ve learnt so much about the world from them. They are such a rich source of interviews, entertainment, education, comedy – everything. All the things I loved about community radio and talk radio has now become podcasts. By subscribing to dozens of them, I have my own custom radio station, with just shows I like.

And it still seems like a secret world. It seems like most people I know don’t follow podcasts.

There’s also no discussion on great podcasts. Ones that help define the medium. I guess because it comes from all places – slick professional radio stations to one guy rambling into a macbook. Still, there is no critical council for podcasts – no reviews, no Oscars, etc.

It’s also hard to say what is best as there are just so many podcasts. It’s an utterly fragmented world.

So with that said, here are some podcasts I love. And some reasons why.

(Namesource/topics covered/format/frequency)

Fresh Airpublic radio/general interest/interviews/daily

This the place to start with podcasts.

Running since 1975, it’s one of the most highly regarded shows in public broadcasting in the US. Hosted by Terry Gross, it covers the gamut of life – from presidential candidates to obscure singer songwriters. Soldiers, actors, scientists, historians – they are all here, completely engaging. Gross is probably the best interviewer in the world – she has a casual air that draws in the listening and disarms her guests.

I have lived with Fresh Air for about 5 years and it’s the perfect daily podcast. Mainly because I can skip past the repeat shows and the topics that don’t interest me. But In any given week, there are 3 if not more shows I want to hear.

Sometimes I think Gross knows everything in the world ever. She can quote Vic Chesnutt lyrics in front of Michael Stipe and she can explain the global financial situation.

Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Mepublic radio/news/game show/weekly

The best produced podcasts on the web. It’s a game show about the week’s news, with a panel of always funny contestants, hosted by Peter Sagal (and sidekick Carl Kasell).

There’s no shortage of superstars walking through either – from ZZ Top to George Stephanopoulos to Leonard Nimoy. Once you get to know the format and the hosts, the show is hugely rewarding.

This is the first podcast I listen to on a Monday. It starts the week in a good way – informed and amused. Who else does one deal with life?

Sunday Night Safranpublic radio/religon, ethnicity/talk/weekly

There is no one else like John Safran. Shameless, fearless and tactless, he tackles the toughest subjects in modern life – religion and race. And he tears it apart, laughing the whole time.

Safran is joined by Father Bob, the 75 year old Priest who is a personality all of his own. Together they tackle the spiritial and racial threads in a variety of topics. Be it an art exhibition about a minority in Australia to interviewing Richard Dawkins.

I’m making it sound more serious than it is. It does make you think though, as Safran and Bob take things apart very cleverly (if they aren’t fighting).

It’s one of the few podcasts I follow from Australia, as most of the ones I loved has now stopped (top of the pile was Andrew Denton’s Enough Rope).

The Onion News Networkoriginal content/humour/news parody/daily
websiteiTunes (audio)iTunes (video)

The Onion has been lampooning news since 1988. Their service offers two podcasts – audio news and video news.

Audio news sounds like a radio station news break. Short and sharp – the stories are usually under a minute (and always hosted by the awesome Doyle Redman). Some headlines include ‘God Cites Mysterious Ways As Motive For Killing’. It’s definitely out there.

The real treasure though, is the video stuff. Made like a 24 hour news network would look, with it’s own branded shows, the Onion News Network is some of the funniest things you’ll ever see.

Some of my all time faves

‘Iron Man 2’ Buzz Heats Up Over Rumors Gwyneth Paltrow Gets Punched In Face

Apple Introduces Revolutionary New Laptop With No Keyboard

Google Opt Out Feature Lets Users Protect Privacy By Moving To Remote Village

Those are a few of many, many excellent videos. The Onion Sports Network is a spot on parody of ESPN, to the point where it’s been comissioned for a weekly TV show. I also love Today Now!, the morning magazine program. But really I love it all.

So the point is this. Some of the best comedy virals from the last decade have come from a podcast! Why aren’t we talking about it?

Popdoseoriginal content/pop music and culture/talk/monthly

One of my favourite blogs is A few months ago they started a podcast – three of the writers sit around and discuss music, life, and make terrible jokes.

This could be the best and worse of what podcasts have to offer. The three guys – Jason Hare, Dave Lifton, Jeff Giles – are pretty average pop music nerds. But that’s what makes it so great. It’s like talking to people who share your interests. I have never, ever, had a conversation about how much I think John Mayer or Daryl Hall are assholes. But I feel like I have with these guys.

It’s amateurish, but charming. Great stings. This is what homemade podcasting can be. I have big plans to ape this format.

Mark Kermode & Simon Mayo Film Reviewsradio/film/talk/weekly

This is the opposite of popdose. This is a proper BBC radio show – probably THE BBC film show. Simon Mayo is the best interviewer Britain has to offer. Mark Kermode is a fantastic film head too. Together they make quite a team.

The show goes out on a Friday afternoon. But I don’t have to worry about that. For the last year or so, it’s been my Saturday morning listening. I don’t even have to get up at the same time each week to catch it. It’s just there. I don’t miss a second of it.

Even if you’re a casual film fan, you must download this.

Coffee Break Frenchoriginal content/language/educational/monthly

I’ve spent the last few years trying to get my French up to a conversational level. I take classes here, read books and of course, any excuse to visit France itslf is taken.

But part of it is Coffee Break French, the best of several French podcasts out there.

The advantage of the podcast is I can follow the lessons at my own pace. I can relisten at my leisure. There’s 80 lessons up there now, and I just make my way through them. It has helped me a lot. Just don’t ask me any questions in French.

Sound Opinionspublic radio/music/talk/weekly

“The world’s only rock ‘n’ roll talk show.”

That’s how they bill themselves and I have to agree. Made out of Chicago, and hosted by esteemed music critics Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot, Sound Opinions is the one must-have music show in the podcast world.

It skewers to the critics world – new indie, and old Mojo mag stuff – but they will dig out big names, modern heroes and underground treasures – often in the same show. Mixed with music news, desert island discs, live performances, new album reviews, classic album dissections – there is nothing else like it for music buffs.

There are dozens, if not hundreds more. This American Life. A Prairie Home Companion. Comic book ones. Doctor Who ones. The famous Ricky Gervais one. The almost as famous Stephen Fry one. The legendary BBC Desert Island Discs. And dozens of other music ones. Lots of great cooking ones.

Anything and everything under the sun.

So – let’s start a conversation about podcasts. What do you listen to? What do you like about them? What doesn’t work?

I’d love to know. Because I think podcasts are cool. And it’s time I started telling people.

Gin Blossoms – Past is gone but something might be found

From the very first time I ever heard Hey Jealousy on the airwaves, I loved this song. It was by a band called the Gin Blossoms – on the surface,  one of dozens of alterna-lite bands that broke through thanks to grunge. But their story, and their songs, were much more than that.

The biggest part of the story revolves around the death of guitarist/songwriter Doug Hopkins. Hopkins wrote Hey Jealousy and Follow You Down – two stone cold pop rock classics, and both huge worldwide hits. Hopkins had formed the band, wrote some of their best songs, developed their jangly guitar sound – but had constant problems with drinking. As a teenager who had one ear stuck on the radio in suburban nowhere Sydney, I knew none of this at the time.

Hopkins‘ drinking and behavior had taken it’s toll on the others, and he was fired from the band he had formed just before the release of New Miserable Experience, the Gin Blossoms‘ proper debut album. The album that would spawn those two big hits and sell 2 million copies. Hopkins would watch from afar as his former friends rose to fame on the back of his songs. He could not beat his chronic depression, or the drinking.

New Miserable Experience came out in August ’92.

In December ’93, Doug Hopkins took his own life.

A fantastic article about Hopkins, written by a friend of his, can be found here – It’s a wonderful, wonderful article. We meet some lost suburban kids, one who could write songs, who loved girls but was awkward. Who drank too much, and knew it, but had nothing else to do to help the time pass. About horrible phone calls bearing bad news, and beautiful songs that you can’t believe were written by mortals. A must read.

Hopkins left us with barely a dozen songs, and only a handful are on that debut Gin Blossoms record. But he definitely had something. God knows the world of blogs don’t need anymore proclamations of genius – but he had all the elements. He had a natural sense of pop hooks – growing up on REM, Tom Petty and Big Star. But his lyrics were really special – one reviewer at the time remarked ‘misery never sounded so good’. It’s one thing to be a drunken suburban fuck up who fell in love too easily. It’s another to express that feeling so clearly in song.

The Gin Blossoms story is not just the Doug Hopkins story. As great as the songs were, the golden ticket for the Gin Blossoms was Robin Wilson‘s voice. That clear, high, longing voice – sitting above it all. Restraint yet passionate, young yet wise, sad yet hopeful. Jesse Venezuela and Scott Johnson (Hopkins‘ replacement) captured the bright, Byrds-y guitar playing right where Hopkin‘s left it, and all the time providing fantastic guitar solos and riffs that served the songs but were memorable in their own right.

New Miserable Experience is the masterwork -where it all came together. That amazing sound that still sounds completely modern was mixed in with hopeless-romantic Hopkin‘s great songs, then topped Wilson‘s great voice. The record captured a generation of disillusioned kids – of which I am one. Almost everyone I know who loved music during this time loves Hey Jealousy. Present tense – they still love it to this day.

Interestingly, one of the very best lines on that track is

You can trust me not to think
And not to sleep around
If you don’t expect too much from me
You might not be let down

Originally, the ‘think’ was ‘drink’.

Universal Music had the foresight to reissue New Miserable Experience in their Deluxe Edition range. Which means it joins hallowed company like Marvin Gaye‘s What’s Going On, Sonic Youth‘s Daydream Nation, the Velvet Underground & Nico and dozens of other acclaimed records.

The band continued on – but they were a wounded beast. But there were highlights as high as Hey Jealousy to come. Their biggest hit ended up being Til I Hear It From You, the lead track off the movie Empire Records. It was co-written by the legendary Marshall Crenshaw. And it was all still there – the melancholy, the voices, the jangle.

Check out Robin Wilson‘s much classier stubble and short hair look. The band looked a million bucks, and a long way from flannelette.

Their second album, Congratulations….I’m Sorry, would be their last. The lead single was Follow You Down – another great song. It sold half a million – but the band was in tatters. They all went their separate ways – new bands mostly. None recaptured the magic – or public imaginations – that the Gin Blossoms had. (The band did reunite for a new record in 2007. I’m still yet to hear it)

My brother had New Miserable Experience. I remembered thinking how mysterious the record looked, with all the squiggy artwork and stretched perspective photos. But God, did I love Hey Jealousy. I was too young to drink, to drive, to fuck – but the song just got me. I loved the hit songs, and it was all I knew until years later, in my 20s, earning money, and I finally bought the album for myself.

Of course, I caught up with the song. And all the others – that loser feeling, that desperation for that beautiful girl. Late nights, rock ‘n’ roll, jealousy, alcohol, cars and girls, girls, girls. It was all there in Hey Jealousy, and all the other songs too. As I approach 30, I still come back to this band, those songs, those records, those feelings.

In the end though, it all just makes me think of how fragile these things we call ‘bands’ can be. How magical, and how fleeting. How young, emotional boys fall in love with girls and music, and how they give up their lives – literally or figuratively – so the world can have a great song.

And how that may never, ever stop happening.

100 for 2000 – #100. Mumford & Sons – Sigh No More

To end another wonderful decade of great music, I’m going to write about ten albums from each of the last ten years, that are either great, or hold some sort of personal significance. A musical kiss off to 00s.

2009 – #10. Mumford & Sons

2009 was a frankly stunning year for music. So many great albums that didn’t make the ten, mainly cos there could only be ten. From life long faves (Wilco, Bob Evans, Rhett Miller, Pearl Jam and Phoenix) to newer bands who came back with awesome albums (Franz Ferdinand, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Clem Snide, Vic Chesnutt, Bottle Rockets) and surprising new acts (Passion Pit, Joel Plaskett, Yves Klein Blue)…I can only hope 2010 is half as good.

Then there was Mumford & Sons, and their record Sigh No More. Coming out at the end of 2009, with an unlikely radio hit in Little Lion Man, I was struck by how honest this album was/is. Whatever else you want to say about this band, they are all heart, in an era where that matters less than ever.

The obvious touch stone here is bluegrass – in it’s most sing-along, euphoric form. The playing is impeccable. They’ve translated it to a bigger setting, but it’s still the place where this all begins.

But if that was it, then they would just be the new Old Crow Medicine Show. Something else has gotten through, and it’s the lyrics. Completely lacking in irony, pretty much every song is about love, sung passionately and directly.

Love that will not betray you
Dismay or enslave you
It will set you free

That’s from the opening, title track, and shows from the onset these guys aren’t fucking around with anything but the greatest themes of all. And they’ve got choruses big enough to hold them too.

Little Lion Man still sounds fantastic, but I avoided it on radio. Roll Away Your Stone and Awake My Soul are even better.

Honesty is always an illusion in music, but whatever it is this band is trying to say, they are doing it with classic rock ‘n’ roll passion. And so, the decade ends with a reminder that writing from the heart and playing the fuck out of those songs still works.

Little Lion Man. Future sounds a lot like the past.

100 for 2000 – #99. La Roux – La Roux

To end another wonderful decade of great music, I’m going to write about ten albums from each of the last ten years, that are either great, or hold some sort of personal significance. A musical kiss off to 00s.

2009 – #9. La Roux – La Roux

I sometimes think that at another time, another year, I might have hated this record. But for some reason, this was a year for the girls. And as much as it’s flashy commercial pop, there is something really gritty and 80s about La Roux. I love how it nods to Yaz, whose Only You I have been in love with all my life, but only got a best of a year or so before I heard this album.

Front woman Elly Jackson‘s voice is a problem for some, but it’s really what makes this band for me. It doesn’t sound like the same old Kelly Clarkson generic popster. It is a hugely distinctive voice. There’s something kind of ugly about it, and yet singing such pretty melodies – it makes for something quite captivating.

2009 was not a year for rock. There just wasn’t that many good rock records. And my interests in electronica continues. So for that, I embraced this record, with all it’s blips and blops. And they are great blips and blops.

The big singles are all flawless slices of pop. Bulletproof was the unexpected breakout hit. It’s a rush, with a big chorus hook, and everyone from buskers to M Ward covered it immediately. I’m Not Your Toy and In For the Kill are just as good.

What the hell is Jackson singing about? I have no idea. Bulletproof sounds like some sort of empowering anthem, but it’s probably best to not read the lyrics off the page. There’s just enough to keep you hooked though. Tigerlily‘s awesome, awesome refrain of ‘burning with desire for a kiss‘ tells you all you need to know about the song.

There’s even a couple of great, quieter moments. As If By Magic dials the energy down for a touching moment. The haunting, dramatic Armour Love is a perfect way to (almost) end the album.

Seeing La Roux at Shepherd’s Bush Empire late last year was fantastic. That brittle voice held up, and watching Jackson throw herself (and that dangerous hairdo) around the stage was great. Every girl in the place sang every word to Bulletproof in defiance of…well…something I’m sure. Who cares. Pop music doesn’t need to be that deep.

Elly Jackson of La Roux doesn’t do much dancing in the Bulletproof clip. Still a blistering pop song.

100 for 2000 – #98. Loudon Wainwright III – High Wide & Handsome, The Charlie Poole Project

To end another wonderful decade of great music, I’m going to write about ten albums from each of the last ten years, that are either great, or hold some sort of personal significance. A musical kiss off to 00s.

2009 – #8. Loudon Wainwright III – High Wide And Handsome, The Charlie Poole Project

Funny what a few weeks can do. At the end of 2009, Loudon Wainwright III’s double album High Wide And Handsome was something I liked but barely had time to get to know. After a string of events, I gave it some time and I’m in love. Barely 8 weeks into the new year and I’m already rewriting history.

Some fact. This album is a tribute to Charlie Poole, and old timey rambler who you can find on the Harry Smith Anthology. As well as well known Poole songs, Wainwright wrote a couple of songs in his honour, and then a couple that taps into his spirit.

What’s great about this record though, is that you don’t have to know anything about Charlie Poole. It’s a proper modern Americana album, with eternal themes of good times, hard liquor, sentimentality and sadness. And at 30 songs, it never sounds samey – going from Brill Building pop to Gospel, bluegrass, honky tonk and quite a few other stops in between.

Terry Gross’s awesome radio program, Fresh Air (on NPR) did a long feature on this album. It was a great interview, which is what made me go out and pick this record up. More surprisingly, it topped Fresh Air’s best albums of the year list (along with, amazingly, Taylor Swift). Finally, the sad passing of Kate McGarrigle spurred me on yet again to give this album a few spins.

So yeah – if you like old timey stuff, you’ll like this. Wainwright‘s cheeky wit is still there. But it’s a bit more of a collaboration. And it’s sometimes a little odd how stright he plays it in some songs. But hey, he’s getting old and aging gracefully.

Here’s some songs I love, if you feel like checking them out. Ramblin’ Blues, Old and Only In the Way, The Man In the Moon, I’m the Man Who Rode the Mule Around the World. Then there’s the title track, written affectionately for Poole, but can apply to Wainwright as well. Both men lived life to the fullest.

So Wainwright won a Grammy for this old album. And he’s sounding really great on here. Maybe it’s a new chapter for him. I hope so.

No videos sadly, but this is a little trailer about the album, with some great insight.

100 for 2000 – #97. The Mummers – Tale To Tell

To end another wonderful decade of great music, I’m going to write about ten albums from each of the last ten years, that are either great, or hold some sort of personal significance. A musical kiss off to 00s.

2009 – #7. The Mummers – Tale To Tell
(Big Bass Drum)

I’ve tried many times to describe this band, and I always make a meal of it. Bjork meets Alice In Wonderland? Somehow that seems to miss the mark, although that’s how I’ve seen it described. It’s orchestrated pop with circus theatrics. In the middle of it is Raissa, as wonderful a voice as I’ve ever heard. The Mummers had a Tale To Tell, and it’s an amazing one.

Raissa actually had a music career that already ended, having a pop hit almost 10 years ago. Returning home to a life of the ordinary, she began thinking of this fantasy land in her head, and started writing songs. She met up with a few old musical connections, and met one new one – producer Mark Horwood. Together with Horwood, Raissa created this majestic soundscape, with the help of 20 odd musicians that filed in and out of Horwood‘s tree house studio.

The album itself, is magical. I caught the band on Jools Holland, and it blew my little mind. Raissa sang with all the joy of the world, and the band chirped away behind her. March Of the Dawn was the single, and it sounds like nothing else on radio. Rufus Wainwright might think it’s needlessly cinematic. And it only gets better from there.

Wonderland is so sweeping, you can see the dancers in the ballroom if you close your eyes. This Is Heaven shimmers with such joy, like a childhood cartoon on a spring day. My personal favourite is Nightbus, where the streets and fantasy come together. The fantasy is over, but just until tomorrow, but right now it’s the night bus home.

The band slowly climbed the ladder, playing Glastonbury and gathering quite an audience. And then out of nowhere, a few shows were cancelled. Then news came out that Horwood had committed suicide.

I don’t know what to say about this. I don’t know the band, or Horwood, or anyone. All I know is I’ve met many young talented people in my life, many who couldn’t handle the world they were given. Most of them survived, some didn’t. And that funny time when a band is taking off, and everything changes – becomes real. It’s a funny time. I am, still, feeling very sad about this guy I’ve never known. It’s some consolation that he crafted such an excellent album before it was all over.

I dragged a couple of friends to their next show. It might have been their last. The band seemed committed, more than ever, to survive. Raissa, who already had one dream fall apart, didn’t look like she was about to let go of this one.

This is going to be one of those records. Like the first Association album, or Murmur, where everyone from the band, the producers and history itself, came together. It’s a special album, and now, it will be unique. I do hope the Mummers continue. And perhaps, Raissa will just reinvent herself again.

There were no clips for Tale To Tell, but here’s that Jools Holland performance that turned me onto them in the first place.

100 for 2000 – #96. Bell X1 – Blue Lights On the Runway

To end another wonderful decade of great music, I’m going to write about ten albums from each of the last ten years, that are either great, or hold some sort of personal significance. A musical kiss off to 00s.

2009 – #6. Bell X1 – Blue Lights On the Runway

Casey has this thing – it’s called a pie chart band. Take all the things you like in music, and the ratio of which you like them. So if you like guitars quite a bit, you like short songs, you like female singers…whatever it is. And then find a band that matches that. A band that has all the things you like, and in roughly the right amounts. In 2009, my pie chart band was Bell X1, and the album Blue Lights On the Runway got me there.

Bell X1, from Ireland, mine the same dark, clever pop as a band like Nada Surf. But they add a big dollop of electronica (later, I found out this was new to this record for them), an they are also gifted with Paul Noonan, who has an amazing gift for lyrics, and has a fantastic voice to boot.

The opening track hooked me from the get-go. Ribs Of a Broken Umbrella crashes in with an anthemic keyboard riff, stops and starts, screams, buzzes and grooves it’s way out the door five minutes later. Later I would discover the song was about an old man the band met in New York. He had travelled to New York decades ago to marry his true love, but he never found her. He stayed in the city, looking for her ever since.

This record sounds amazing (it’s produced by old Elvis Costello engineer Roger Bechirian). There is a lot of sonic detail – well placed guitar hook, the twiddle of keys, an electronic swirl… all serves to add colour to this record. But it fits in with the mood of the record – which is over information in our world of madness. In the Great Defector, Noonan sings in high speed about throwing up as a plane lands, marveling at all that’s going on around him. It’s a maddening blur.

Taking aside the awesome rockers, there’s also some excellent intimate moments. Most of it comes lyrically; Scaling the north face of your neck, sings Noonan, on How Your Heart Is Wired. Whether it’s silly images like flicking knickers like a one stringed harp, or the straight faced affection of Light Catches Your Face, everything’s clicking.

There’s also a healthy dose of self depreciation. They call themselves Blow Ins at one point. Elsewhere, Noonan wonders what it would be like to play in A Better Band.

So yay! A new band, one with many old albums to explore. 2009 was such a great year for music. But it’s always so great to find one of those pie chart bands. That I’ll be with this band for a few albums, a few years.

Ribs Of A Broken Umbrella by Bell X1. Everything great about this band comes together on this track. Pity the film clip is an edit version of the track.

100 for 2000 – #95. Arctic Monkeys – Humbug

To end another wonderful decade of great music, I’m going to write about ten albums from each of the last ten years, that are either great, or hold some sort of personal significance. A musical kiss off to 00s.

2009 – #5. Arctic Monkeys – Humbug

Arctic Monkeys have become one of my favourite bands, sneaking in with 2 (or 3, if you count Last Shadow Puppets) perfect records, year on year. And I struggle to think of another modern UK guitar band I even like. These guys are so far ahead of the pack that they are their own thing. But, like all great bands, they’ve moved on just as everyone else is catching up. Humbug is something new.

Alex Turner built his reputation on kitchen sink poetry (the title of their first album is a nod to Alan Sillitoe), but that clever detail is all but gone. It’s all metaphor and imagery. Drinking and fighting has been replaced by sex. All those tight, taut rhythms have gone to a more stoner rock place.

Sex is all over this record. My Propeller is pretty much Turner’s penis. On Dangerous Animals he screams “Let’s make a mess, lioness“. Potion Approaching he tells a girl that “Your’s is the only ocean that I want to swing from“. And the music suits it – huge and echo-y and groove heavy.

The masterpiece here is Crying Lightning. It hangs over the record in the way, say, Cortez the Killer hangs over Zuma. Maybe in 30 years, kids will pick up this album because it’s the one with Crying Lightning on it. It’s yet another ode of mysterious women who get what they want, with an impossible riff, a chorus sung three different ways. In fact, Turner has never sung this well.

Then there’s the ballad Cornerstone. Although it’s familiar ground to LSP stuff (or their own b-side Bakery), it’s Turner‘s best ballad yet. Full of darkness and drama, it’s some madness about a guy wanting to sleep with a girl, yet call her by her sister’s name.

It’s an album full of twisted sexual politics, murky morals and desperate characters. And I guess it was the year for it. I did a lot of drinking this year. And met some girls that did me no good. It’s not the devil, but the sad darkness in all of us, well I took a dip. And this album was playing when I did it.

It’s amazing the distance this band has travelled in just four years. I Bet That You Look Good On the Dancefloor sounds like the work of a different band.

Chances of another album this year seems unlikely. But 2011…lets see them change again.

Crying Lightning. I don’t see this leaving the setlist for many, many years to come.